Why the Mariners are giving Julio Rodríguez a long look in CF

Mar 23, 2022, 5:12 PM
Mariners Julio...
Mariners OF Julio Rodríguez reacts after hitting a game-winning single in a 2021 Cactus League game. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The Mariners have always expected big things out of their current top prospect, Julio Rodríguez. It just wasn’t expected that those things would come with him playing center field.

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That has changed over the past six months or so, as the Mariners are at least now more open to the idea. Especially since when looking over their roster of outfielders, Rodríguez seems to make as much sense in center as any of them.

Mariners general manager and president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto joined Seattle Sports’ Mike Salk last week for his weekly Jerry Dipoto Show, and he provided a lot of insight into the story of Rodríguez and his position. That includes why he wasn’t seen by many as a center fielder early on in his time in Seattle’s system, why he started getting more opportunities in the spot last year, and what makes him a candidate to stick at the position going forward.

Related: Julio Rodríguez talks working on CF, pushing for opening day spot

Let’s take a close look at what Dipoto had to say.

Julio Rodríguez, next Mariners center fielder?

The first question that needs to be answered is why Rodríguez’s name didn’t come up much as a potential future center fielder until late last season. And that all has to do with the 21 year old’s frame, which is up to 6 foot 4 after he grew another inch this offseason.

“It’s just not a really common thing to have a guy that’s that big and physical who’s athletically capable of playing center field,” Dipoto said, “but he’s doing it.”

Related: All eyes now on Mariners’ OF — and Rodríguez’s role in it

It’s worth noting that it’s rare to see players that tall and weighing 200 pounds or more in center. For example, Ken Griffey Jr. was big for a center fielder and was listed as 6-3 and 195 pounds in his prime.

“The reason you would talk a player off or scout a player off of center field at a young age is just you think the body is going to outgrow the position,” Dipoto said, “and that was evident that Julio was going to be a big, physical, muscular type guy. And it’s turned out to be that way.”

Rodríguez has shown in his young career that he likes a challenge, however, and he’s clearly tackled this one by training in a way that preserves speed and quickness.

“He went out and worked on tapering that body and maintaining that twitch. You have to be twitchy to play center field, or you have to have wonderful instinct on breaks and reads,” Dipoto said. “It’s got to be one or both of those. If you have both of those, you’re going to be a Gold Glover. If you have one, you can play center field.”

Twice during the interview with Salk, Dipoto answered questions with “We’re gonna find out.” First was in response to whether Rodríguez actually is a center fielder. Second was when he was asked if Rodríguez is “twitchy” enough for the position.

“He, again, thrives on doing things that you don’t think he can do. He came in, he has increased his speed by a grade and a half on our scale. His body looks – I mean, it is tapered and athletic. He looks great,” Dipoto said.

That speed was on display Monday when Rodríguez showed eye-popping sprint speed on a steal of second base – which, it’s worth mentioning, came after he hit a clean single to reach base.

Rodríguez is going to get a lot of chances in center this spring, but he’s going to get a lot of chances in general. The door is open on him possibly making the team out of camp and making his MLB debut in Minnesota on April 7, where he could play alongside a previous top Mariners prospect, Jarred Kelenic, in the outfield.

“He’ll be here until the end, minimally, and he might wind up out there when we break camp on opening day,” Dipoto said. “We’re so excited (about) what happens as he progresses towards the big leagues. It’s not like this has been a quick ascent in that no one heard of Julio. Since the day we signed him, this was always his destiny, and he thrives – like JK (Kelenic) does, frankly – on proving people wrong when they believe he can’t do something.”

Listen to the full Jerry Dipoto Show in the podcast at this link or in the player below, and catch the next one at 8:30 a.m. Thursday during The Mike Salk Show on Seattle Sports 710 AM.

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Why the Mariners are giving Julio Rodríguez a long look in CF